Quill Defote tends to be a magnet for trouble. His latest escapades have crash-landed him on the rather hostile planet of Marutuk. To makes matters worse, he must find a way to fix his ship and return home in a few days if he wants to keep his new position as a teacher. Which leaves Quill scrambling to find help on a planet that could care less about being helpful. When he happens upon a junkyard, he assumes his prayers have been answered. Unfortunately the area is guarded by a cyborg that has orders to shoot first and ask questions later.
Hunter doesn’t remember the man he was before. His Mistress saved his life, pieced him back together, and now he serves as guardian to her domain, despite her cruelty and his desire to see more of the world beyond Marutuk. Hunter knows he should have shot Quill or driven him away permanently, but the man offers him the first measure kindness he can recall. Hunter knows he must help Quill get home, even if it means facing the deadly consequences of crossing his Mistress.
Normally I’m not a fan of short stories because I find them decidedly too…short. I prefer a long story arc for my fiction but the plot of Junk Mage caught my attention and I decided to give it a try. Alas, while it had its moments of entertainment, it’s pacing was somewhat uneven and I didn’t have enough information or time with the characters to really appreciate them. Aside from the pacing issues, which are patchy, the writing was fairly strong and the author manages to convey enough sense of time and place to forward the plot. The world building is obviously limited, but again given the constraints imposed by the medium, Junk Mage has fairly decent development of its world. Neither Quill nor Hunter are one-dimensional constructs, but nor are they fully fleshed out characters. As a result, while I didn’t actively dislike them, I found it hard to become invested in their story either. They were just sort of there, occasionally enjoyable yet often failing to truly capture my interest.
The action in Junk Mage is far too rushed. At times it takes on an almost manic quality as both readers and characters are forced from scene to scene without being given a moment to breathe. It feels as though we are never given any time to process what is happening to either Hunter or Quill and instead we get dragged along. The antagonist is something of a cardboard cutout. We are given just enough information to confirm that we should dislike her, but not enough to know why or how she came to be on Marutuk. As a result she never quite fits in with the rest of the plot and her interactions are fairly stiff and forced.
Junk Mage has an interesting premise and given its short length, there is a strong measure of world building. But it has a perpetual feeling of being hurried and it wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been because of this. The characters aren’t truly flat and they do have some definition, but they aren’t particularly memorable either. Unless you just love sci-fi themed short stories, I’d have to say this one is probably worth passing by.